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Category Archives: Discipleship

Made to Worship: What Shall We Bring?

(a sermon for October 21, 2018, the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost; sixth in a series, based on Micah 6:6-8 and Mark 12:38-44)

“The morning offering will now be received.”

It occurs to me that of all the usual things that get said during our times of worship together, aside from “let us pray,” “Our Father, who art in heaven,” and maybe “please rise and sing,” this is the phrase that’s most likely to be spoken regularly from service to service! And that’s because with a few exceptions throughout the year, there’s almost always going to be an offering as part of our worship!  Oh, there are churches that seek to find alternative ways of dealing with this part of their life together – from creating a faith-based “honor system” that assumes that the good stewardship of their members will happen without having to pass the plate every Sunday, to actually placing several electronic kiosks throughout the church building so that worshippers can conveniently give to the church with their credit or debit cards (no joke!) – but by and large, no matter the size or the tradition of a particular congregation, there’s always going to be a time in the midst of worship in which we are pastorally encouraged to give freely after the manner that we have freely received!

Now some people, as I’ve shared with you before, refer to this part of the service as “the collection” (a label which as you well know, I dislike intensely!); and then there was the man from a prior church I served who ever and always called it “the pew tax,” much to his wife’s consternation!   I even have a clergy colleague who speaks of it to her congregation as “TCB,” that is, “Takin’ Care of Business!”  My preference, of course, is simply to refer to this part of the service as our offering unto God, your and my tangible expression of thanksgiving unto the Lord for all of our many blessings and our continuance of the Biblical tradition of giving a portion of the “first fruits” of our lives back to God.  In the parlance of the Old Testament, it’ tithing, giving 10% of what we have unto God (and that’s to start, friends!); but if not that, at the very least a significant and sacrificial and above all, faithful, gift.

Of course, if we’re being honest, then we do have to acknowledge that there’s a practical component in having the offering: indeed, the financial gifts we receive through the offering and by our faithful stewardship as members of East Church is what keeps this church up and running from year to year (did I happen to mention that next Sunday is Stewardship Sunday?  Just sayin’!). The morning offering is meant for the support our shared ministry as part of our local church, as part of the United Church of Christ and extending out to the whole Body of Christ; and electric and heating bills, snowplowing and (if I might borrow a word from our church treasurer here, gulp!) even pastoral compensation is all part of that!   So there is the practical, real world component to consider here; but nonetheless we need to understand that from the very beginnings of our faith and the life of the church, the time of offering in our worship has always represented the very movement that we’ve been talking about all through this sermon series; going from praise and thanksgiving, to hearing and reflecting upon the Word of God, to finally responding to that Word with lives of faithful service as disciples of Jesus Christ!   And how is the best way to respond but by giving of ourselves in real ways and real time by our time, our talent, and yes, friends, our treasure!

So… as you and I are “made to worship,” it’s not a question of if there will be an offering as we do so; but of your and my response to those words that get spoken each and every Sunday morning: “The morning offering will now be received.”  Ultimately, for us as people of faith the real question is – as it’s always been for as long as people of faith have gathered to worship the Lord – “what shall we bring?” How are we to answer this call to give of ourselves?  Scripture is actually full of insight as to how we might respond to that, but this morning I want to focus on one answer that’s found in this morning’s reading from Mark’s gospel, the familiar story of the “widow’s mite.”

But be aware, though… it may not be the answer you’re expecting!

You know the story:  Jesus is there at the temple in Jerusalem, taking the position of a fly on the wall as he watches the faithful bringing their offerings to the temple treasury during this celebration of the Passover.  And of course, from this vantage point he can see all the rich and powerful sauntering in, showing off their fine clothes and making dramatic gestures as they put their large yet ostentatious gifts into the treasury receptacles.  To this display of largesse, Jesus is profoundly unimpressed; but then, up walks this elderly woman, identified in scripture only as “a poor widow,” who quietly takes out two small copper coins – worth a half a cent each, if that – and places them into the receptacle and walks away without a sound.  A tiny offering, just a mite, made even smaller in comparison to all the other, much larger offerings that had been made that day; but this is the gift that Jesus praises over and above anything that the rich and famous offer up because, Jesus says, “all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Truth be told, however, there’s more to it than that.  It’s worth noting that just prior to Jesus sitting down to observe what was happening in this “service of offering” at the Temple, he’d actually been railing against the hypocrisy of the scribes; the scribes who, remember, were the educated class of religious leaders and were thought of as those who were pious and wise and deserving of respect (or perhaps more accurately, those who at least liked to think of themselves in that way!).  And yet, nonetheless, the scribes were also the ones who flaunted all of that; they were the ones “who like[d] to walk around in long robes, and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,” the ones who sought out the best seats in the synagogues and who loved sitting at the head table during the temple feasts, and who would do whatever they needed to do assure themselves a comfortable life in the seat of religious authority, even if that meant “devour[ing] widow’s houses.”  I dearly love how D. Mark Davis, a biblical scholar and an expert in New Testament Greek, describes these so-called religious leaders:  as “Pretentious Pretenders Pressuring Penurious Penniless Pensioners!”  And if that glorious alliteration weren’t enough, Davis adds that Jesus’ words about “devouring widow’s houses” actually was a very intentional and rather sharpened play on words on Jesus’ part, for the sad truth was that these scribes, all for the sake of preserving their own power, were feasting as much on the resources of the poor as much as that which was on the menu at the Passover meal!

So it’s wonderfully fitting that even as Jesus is right there, teaching his disciples all about the scribes’ hypocrisy, selfishness and utter abuse of power,  here comes this elderly, powerless and impoverished widow; quite literally bringing her “two cent’s worth” as her offering to God and it’s everything.  It’s everything she had to live on, it’s her whole life; she walks up to that offering receptacle and gives it to God and she does it faithfully and unselfishly.  It’s a monumental gift, to be sure, and utterly sacrificial, but the question is why? Why would she make that offering if that was all she had?  Karoline Lewis, professor of biblical preaching at Luther Seminary in Minnesota, wonders about that.  Was her offering made “out of obligation,” she asks.  “Respect?  Demand? Expectation? Religiousity? Piety?  All of the above?”  After all, the reality of the time and of the religious belief and tradition that righteousness would be related to one’s sacrifice at the altar!  No, this was different; Jesus could see that and so can we. In the end,  yes, the widow gave because she needed to; but she needed to because something deep within her knew that what she was doing, what she was bringing before God would “manifest itself in something beyond herself.”  It was her response to the very essence and the power of God in her life and in the world.

Not bad for a couple of copper pennies!

It turns out, you see, that it’s not the amount of the gift that matters as much as the way the gift is given.  In other words, the begrudgingly “generous” gift from the one who has money to burn might fill the offering plate but has far less meaning than the modest but heartfelt gift from the one who literally didn’t have two pennies to rub together; it’s the difference between reluctantly making a contribution and truly giving an offering unto the Lord, offering up your whole self in praise and thanksgiving for all that God has done in your lives!

What all this means is that whatever the gift we need to consider the motivation for our giving.  Because ultimately, you see, our offering is all about the grace of God and what we do with we received.  Scott Hoezee writes that “we all live immersed in the… grace of God in Christ” and that everything we do in the Christian life – including giving to the offering plate – is an outflow and an overflow of that grace.”  That grace, says Hoezee, “allows us to rest easy by taking joy in whatever we are able to do for God.  Grace gives us the freedom to be who we have become as new creatures in Christ.  We use our gifts and give of ourselves not because of some stern external obligation or pressure or because we’ve been made to feel guilty as we are manipulated by the church.  Instead we are free to be who we are, free to let the Spirit move us along in ministry.”

And what that all means, friends, is that every Sunday morning after we’ve prayed together as a congregation and I say a few words that lead up to the regular admonition that “the morning offering will now be received,” we’re not setting forth the requirement of doing the right thing and putting a few dollars in the offering plate.  What we’re doing is presenting the opportunity to let all that we’ve received in the love and care of God in Jesus Christ overflow into the life we seek for ourselves, for our church and for the world.

How would it be, I wonder, if we really did view our Sunday morning offering as an opportunity for a true spiritual blessing to take root and grow in the gardens of our lives?  For that matter, since it is stewardship season after all (!), what would happen around here if the pledges and promises we make for the coming year, be they financial or otherwise, not be made so much out of an obligation to the budget but rather as wholly embracing the possibilities of who we are and what we can do in this place as disciples of Jesus Christ and members of East Church?   What if our offering plates became more than merely the receptacle of this week’s (okay, I’ll say it…) “collection” but rather the place where hopes, dreams and prayerful intercession are transformed into Spirit-led action?

Well, beloved, the good news is it can and does happen when God’s grace is involved.  How else do you explain the strong stewardship of the people of this remarkable congregation?  How else can you describe how an initial offering made last year to help “lift the gift” in our church’s operating budget has expanded to the point where on many months we’ve been able to NOT draw monies from our invested funds?  How else could you ever say how, whatever the need happens to be, we have people in this congregation who do step up in miraculous and life-changing ways; and how that transforms us from, as we’ve often been know, from “the little church that could” to “the little church that can… and does.”  Yes, it happens because of your faith and your commitment and your hard work that it happens (and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for that), but ultimately it’s because of grace revealed and responded to.  It’s because of what each one of you brings as an offering, in praise and thanksgiving.  It’s what illustrates, in wonderful and miraculous ways, the words of Micah who says that’s what’s required of is to “do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God.”

You and I are made to worship… and as part of that, you and I are called to make an offering… this Sunday, next Sunday and truly, on every day of our lives as we walk faithfully with our God.  And as we do, may what we give be matched and increased by how we give, so that by grace our resources will grow.

And always, may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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The Whole Armor of God

(a sermon for August 26, 2018, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Ephesians 6:10-20)

Let me begin this morning by making something of a confession: that for a long time, the warrior-slash-gladiator imagery that’s put forth in the passage of scripture we just read (armor and breastplates, shields, helmets, arrows and such) used to make me a bit… uncomfortable.  Partly that’s because I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s where the ideals of peace and non-violence were not were not only espoused by a changing culture, but also an essential part of my own Christian nurture; moreover, as I came to learn about the growth of Christianity in seminary, I discovered that some of the darkest days of church history occurred when Christians marched out with banners unfurled to crusade and make “holy” war.  And let’s be brutally honest about it: even in these times – even right now (!) – there are those who will use Paul’s imagery to somehow justify an act or attitude of prejudice, aggression or even downright hatred; and that, to say the very least, is concerning.

So it’s been hard for me as a pastor and preacher to speak of our being “soldiers of the cross” on the one hand, and worship the “Prince of Peace” on the other; and that’s why for a whole lot of years I wouldn’t even consider singing “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,” as a part of worship.  It just seemed so contradictory to what we are taught in faith.

That having been said, though, I also have to say that over the years my understanding of this passage, and several others like it, has broadened.  For instance, a few years back, the United Methodists were having a somewhat protracted struggle over whether or not to include “Onward, Christian Soldiers” in their new hymnal.  There was actually quite a division over the issue, so they did what all good church folk do: they took a survey (!) asking how people responded when they heard this particular hymn.  And what they found is that rather than soldiers marching to war in God’s mighty army, the majority of those responding talked about the need for today’s church to be in mission throughout a harsh and violent world!  Likewise, the number one response for the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (a hymn that has also long sparked debate over its rather harsh imagery and somewhat sketchy theology) was that it reminded people of the Civil Rights movement and in fact continues to serve as an anthem for racial and social justice!

In the end, things like this have led me to at least reconsider my own ideas, and I guess the moral here is that sometimes we have to be open enough look at these things in the proper context and not just from our own narrow point of view; but even more than that, we need to remember in this age of increasingly watered-down, politically-correct and often marginalized Christianity that there indeed have been times when the church believed that there was something worth fighting for; or at least, a worthy conviction upon which to stand firm.

If we’re to truly understand what Paul says to the Ephesians and to us, the message is clear:  in the midst of “this present darkness” in which we live, a world with all its powers and principalities working evil against us, there always has been something worth fighting for, and what’s more there still is: and it’s our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and “the mystery of the gospel.”  So be strong, Paul says. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power,” and “take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

What we need to understand, you see, is that what this passage is all about is less about humanity’s “warring madness” (to quote the hymn) than it is about God’s power, about the larger, spiritual struggles of life, and about how as people of faith those struggles cannot help but touch each one of our lives sooner or later.  In that context, this imagery of the “whole armor of God” is not only very rich, vivid and bold, but also quite appropriate for you and me even today.

I can say this because nature is the same now as it always has been, as is our human tendency to conform.  Paul was aware, as are we, that all too often our first response to any given situation is just to… go along to get along; to stick with the status-quo, to go with the flow, and of course, the old standby that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do!”  Whatever our go-to response, however, our faith in Jesus Christ and our allegiance to the mysteries of the gospel demands more of us than quiet, acquiescent conformity with the world; it requires a boldness that is fueled by the strength and power of God!

In other words, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are not called to merely “blend in” to the scenery of daily life as to be inconspicuous; and most certainly we are not meant to simply follow along with the conventional morality and wisdom of an ever shifting culture!   You and I have not be sent out into the world in order to be given over to whatever whim hits us at any moment, or to flit from fad to fashion in the fleeting hope of hitting something good along the way.  Rather, we are meant to stand firm on our moral and ethical and social and spiritual convictions in Christ, even when that stance is unpopular and it makes us unpopular; because trust me on this, folks: there are times when that’s exactly what’s going to happen!

And lest you ever think otherwise, dear friends, pastors are not exempt from that kind of persecution!  Not to complain or to sounding morose about it, but let me just share with you that at various times over the years as a minister I have been told that as regards faith I am unreasonable, unrealistic, illogical, judgmental, exclusive, out of touch and out of step; that I don’t live in the real world; that I’m a “purveyor of drivel” (my personal favorite!); and that I’m downright mistaken in just about every way… and this is from people from within the church!  And, yes, there have been those I’ve known outside the body of Christ who have dismissed me out of hand as some kind of overly zealous religious do-gooder!  But understand that any one of us who has chosen to remain faithful come what may could tell much the same story.

I recognize that what I’m saying here does not exactly serve as a great endorsement for church membership, never mind going into the ministry!  Nonetheless, there’s no denying, as it says in our own UCC Statement of Faith, that there is a cost as well as a joy in discipleship; and often that cost is manifest in the moments when in our Christian walk it feels like it’s “us alone against the world,” with the odds being very much stacked in favor of the world!  Make no mistake, no matter who we are, no matter how strong or faithful or optimistic we happen to be, for any of us that kind of rejection, that kind of warfare can take its toll.

That’s why Paul speaks of our need be strong in our Christian identity, to set our feet so that they are firmly rooted in our faith in God; nurtured in tradition and enveloped in faithful community so that we can grow deep in the rich soil of love and hope and joy.  Remember, friends, our coming to church every Sunday is not merely for the sake of gaining some kind of inspiration for the week ahead, and it’s not even entirely about community; ultimately, it’s about being a part of something larger than ourselves; to be not transient but transcendent; to be renewed for the journey ahead and strengthened for the struggles that will ensue; and to go forth in a way that maintains our dignity and our integrity as men and women of God.

Because as Paul notes, and we already know, the way won’t be easy, nor will be withstanding what’s going to come… we need to ready ourselves for the struggles we’ll face “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  We need protection akin to the armor… we need the whole armor of God.

Now to put this all in context, it should be noted that in a time and place when the early church was feeling the persecution and oppression of the Roman authorities, Paul chose this very militaristic imagery of the Roman soldiers to make his point; so truth be told, as much as it might disturb our modern sensibilities it probably raised far more eyebrows amongst those new Christians even than it does with us now.  But then as now, message is clear:  that if the battle garb of the Roman guard is impossible to penetrate, than just consider how much stronger God’s armor will be.  So if you and I go through the struggles of this life feeling as though the powers and principalities of the world will inevitably beat us down, then we truly need to rise up and walk in true faith in Jesus Christ; and for that, we need God’s armor.

For just as the warrior protects himself with accoutrements of steel, as followers of Jesus Christ, we will discover our strength:

We will find that when we gird ourselves with truth, like a belt around our waist;

when we put righteousness before our heart, like a breastplate over the chest;

when we walk with the gospel of peace, like shoes with strong and rugged soles;

when we put faith between us and any problem coming at us, like a shield deflects arrows flying toward us;

when we embrace our salvation, like a helmet to protect our head;

when we allow God’s Word to clear our minds and our hearts, like a sword to vanquish the enemies from within and without;

this is how we shall persevere.

That’s what it takes to get us through.  That’s the armor that we need, as Paul exhorts us, to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.”

You know, one of the things I continue to learn as I move forward on this journey of life is that most of the time my faith in God is as warm and welcoming to me as a warm quilt on a cold winter’s day (or to use an analogy more apropos to this particular summer, as refreshing as a dip in the cool water on a hot humid afternoon!).  I am forever thankful for the miracle of grace and joy that is mine in Christ! But I also know that in following Jesus, there are bound to be struggles, and there have been; times in which it seems like an utter fight simply to live out of Christ’s call to compassion and inclusiveness; times in which it becomes difficult to hold on to my identity and integrity as a child of God.  I’m guessing that you all could say the same; for we know that question that looms in such times as these:  when the fight comes, and it will, will we have the strength and the power to persevere?

Well, beloved, to this I can only say that we are made strong in the midst of struggle in this life when our strategies, our practice, the moves we make and the truth we espouse represent the spiritual presence in our life; when it declares our faith boldly in word and in deed.  In the times and places we feel weak an beaten down, we are in fact strong; and what makes us strong is the armor that God provides us: from breastplate to helmet to shoes, the gear of a spiritual warrior that not only helps us to survive in the face of all manner of attack, but then leads us in the triumph song of life, so that in all times and places we may walk boldly, declaring a gospel of peace with every step!

May we be strong and courageous on the journey, and as we go, may our…

…thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Faith Like You Mean It

(a sermon for June 24, 2018, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, based on 2 Corinthians 6:1-13)

“Are you sure you want to be a minister?”

This was the rather pointed question that I heard time and time again from the man who not only was my pastor but also the member of the clergy who‘d been assigned as my mentor and advisor in the years leading up to my ordination to the Christian ministry! “Are you sure you want to be a minister?” He was always asking me this, sometimes with a smile but oftentimes dead serious; and I must confess that it did seem rather odd at times that the very person who had been charged by the wider church to offer encouragement in my process of discerning my sense of calling to the ministry seemed to be trying to talk me out of it!

Now, I must add at this point that this man was among the most caring, supportive, nurturing and yes, encouraging people I could have ever hoped for in my pastoral journey. Moreover, even as a young “wanna-be” pastor he gave me so many valuable opportunities to develop my skills as a preacher and worship leader; truly, even all these years later I realize that so much of what I do now as a church pastor I first learned from him.  But he was also a realist, and he wanted me to understand the whole truth about this pastoral vocation to which I was being called: that despite its many joys, working in the ministry can be a very hard job; that the hours were long, the work often demanding and the pay not nearly as much as could be received in other professions; and that the stress of it will almost certainly take its toll on you if you’re not careful, and also on the members of your family.  And not only that, he said, but be aware that sometimes, despite your best efforts, the people you love and serve as a pastor and preacher just won’t be listening to what you have to say… or else, you’ll find out they were listening and just said no!  Either way, that’s when you’ll need all your faith to stay strong and to keep at this ministry to which you’ve been called.

So…“are you sure you want to be a minister?”

Well, as of today I’ve been ordained 34 years so I think the answer to that question was and is, “yes!”  And may I say that it’s been a wonderfully joyous and grace-filled journey every step of the way; and I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life than being a pastor!  But I also have to admit that over the years I’ve discovered again and again that my pastoral advisor was right on all counts; and I must tell you that there have been moments, albeit not many, but a few along the way when it did take a fair amount of faith to stay strong and to keep pressing forward on the pastoral journey.

Of course, what I’m talking about here is not unique to ordained ministry, is it?  Indeed, unless I miss my guess, there are times for each one of us here, no matter what our particular calling or vocation happens to be, that to be honestly and wholly faithful people, that living as true witnesses of God’s grace and love can be a real challenge; most especially when what we believe and what it is we seek to do “with our hearts wide open” ends up being ignored or rejected by those we’ve sought to love.  Perhaps you and I can’t attest to having endured anything on that list of persecutions included in our text for this morning – “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” – but I suspect some of us might know what it is to have our faith dismissed by others – perhaps even by those close to us – as something naïve at best and fanatical at worst, a belief system that’s totally unrealistic and out of sync with the values that modern society and the world sets forth!

I really don’t wish to sound overly negative here, but this is often the hard and fast reality of how the world treats people of faith, especially in these divisive hyper-partisan times we live in!  And it’s why we do need all the faith we can muster to stay strong and to keep solidly on our journey of discipleship.  As Paul himself wrote to what presumably was a faltering group of Christians in the city of Corinth, “As we work together with him [with Christ], we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.”  Or, as it’s wonderfully translated in The Message, “We beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us.”

Let’s unpack that a bit.  To begin with, we need to understand that Paul wrote there to the Corinthians was actually very personal in nature; the response to some very specific and very painful difficulties he was having with the Christians there.  Apparently, there was lots of rumors spreading throughout the church in Corinth (it’s always about the gossip, isn’t it!) regarding Paul’s sincerity in faith and a lack of credentials for ministry.  So what becomes clear is that as faithful as Paul was seeking to be in this situation (“with no restriction in our affections,” he says), living out his faith in ways that were sincere, truthful, loving and genuine; being patient, kind and good as he reached out to his brothers and sisters in faith in Corinth, these Christians had in fact sort of closed off their hearts to Paul.

So now, about five chapters of dealing powerfully and not unkindly with matters of divine grace and reconciliation, Paul lays it on the line to Corinthians that the time had come for their hearts to be opened; quoting Isaiah in that “now is the acceptable time; see,” he says, “now is the day of salvation;” the time for the righteousness of God to be demonstrated in each one of those who have been reconciled to him through Christ.  In other words, now is the time for the faith that’s needed to do this ministry to which we’ve been called together and which we share today and in every day that is to come!

And this admonition begins with that very first verse we shared this morning; translated still another way, “See to it that you do not receive God’s grace in vain.”  Now here’s something interesting:  the word that’s translated almost everywhere as “in vain” is the Greek word kenos, which probably more accurately means, “empty.”  So what Paul’s actually saying to the Corinthians is if you are going to accept this graceful gift of God’s salvation and love, do not do so in a way that empty and meaningless!  In other words, quoting Scott Hoezee here, “if God’s grace has really taken root in your hearts and you really understand how his salvation works, then this had better show up in your lives.”  What Paul is doing here, writes Hoezee, “is making it clear not only that working for Jesus is a rough and tumble business in this brutal world” but he is also spelling out how all the faithful need to react to the hardships, persecution and conflict that will inevitably come as a result of it.  And simply put, it comes down to living out your faith not in some casual, nearly empty kind of way, but rather faith like you mean it!

And to illustrate both the importance and the result of such faith, Paul then gives the Corinthians – and also you and me –  that long list of the struggles of discipleship… but also the blessings that come as those struggles are met with true faith and the acceptance of God’s reconciling grace.  In other words, affliction will be met with purity; hardship creates knowledge; calamities bring forth patience; even the pain that results from being “beaten up, jailed, and mobbed” nurturing “gentleness, holiness and honest love.”  So many things can, and will happen when you seek to be true disciple of Christ you are called to be; but “in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute,” known or unknown, even as one dying, in a true and meaningful life of faith we are so much more.  See, says Paul, “we are alive; as punished, and not yet killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

Like I said before, very few of us will ever have to face the kind of full on persecution that Paul or so many other of the early Christians had to endure for the sake of their faith in Jesus Christ.  And yet, I can’t help but remember my old advisor’s warning about ministry not always (if ever!) being an easy or convenient way of life.  Likewise, for any of us it’s all too easy, given the inevitable difficulties and struggle of doing what’s right where our faith is concerned, to let our hearts get closed off to its importance not only to our lives, but also to our world.  Each one of us, you and you and me, needs to be living faith like we mean it; to quote Scott Hoezee one more time, most especially in these days of confused situations, in the church “we need the message and the truth of what Paul says… do not receive God’s grace in vain, “or in emptiness.  “Too much is at stake for the church to look no different from the rest of the world these days.”  And then he adds this, which I thought was very timely:  “Before we start lobbing accusations at one another… [or] before we start knocking each other around in the same rough-and-tumble spirit that is animating the larger body politic today, we had best take a good, long look at our Savior Jesus Christ,” and reflect on whether our actions and words risk rendering the grace of God in our midst in ways that end up vain and empty.

My question for you today, friends, is if you can say that you truly live your faith like you mean it.  Are you able to find the spirit led resources that not only keeps you strong and empowers you to live through the times of personal and worldly rejection, but also provides a means to share the spiritual riches you’ve been given with others?  Is your heart open wide to the ministry to which you’ve been called (and yes, don’t ever forget, we all have a ministry in Christ’s name!), and does the fullness of God’s grace in your life become the source material of righteousness and salvation in the world?

The thing that’s both interesting and incredibly reassuring is that in this ministry that I’m a part of I get to see it unfold all the time:  in those who have dismissed the notion that one’s Christianity is merely a one hour a week proposition, but have decided that things like hope and joy, peace, justice and above all love are more than just ideals but are made real in caring for others who stand near to them in direct and very tangible ways; or for that matter in reaching out to those who have long felt themselves to be beyond the reach of anyone who cares!  I see it in those who have chosen to go against the grain of whatever  pop culture is proclaiming at the moment and to stand up for that which makes for God’s peace – his shalom – and to do so in a way that is not divisive but unifying, without finger pointing and name calling but in a manner wholly rooted in the love of Jesus.  And I see it in the way of some of those around us have simply endured; the people we all know who have taken on the burdens and uncertainties of life as we know it but nonetheless view every single day as a gift, as an opportunity to show forth true and lasting witness to the wonders of God’s grace within themselves and in all things around

These who the people who have not received what they’ve been given in vain; but who have ever and always lived faith in a way that says they mean it…

…I pray that the same may be said of each one of us, beloved, so that everything we say and do today, tomorrow and always resound with a joyous…

…thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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